Five teams supported by M-Sport's customer programme will contest the 50th Acropolis Rally, round six of the FIA 2003 World Rally Championship this weekend.

Missing from the M-Sport Customer line-up for the Rally itself is Finland's Janne Tuohino. Tuohino, who has just undergone a brief test in Nilsi?, Finland [80 km to the north of Lepp?virta] will complete the recce for the Acropolis Rally, and will then return to Finland to continue his bid for the Finnish Championship at the Abloy Rally, 6-7 June.

Antony Warmbold, took part in the Rally Argentina at the beginning of May and guided his Ford Focus to eleventh overall at the end of the event. This weekend, with considerable experience of Greek events, and now more familiar with his Focus, Warmbold is hoping to improve his stage times further on the rough and rocky surfaces that make up the Acropolis Rally.

"Both Gemma [Price] and I are familiar with the type of conditions this rally offers and we are looking forward to tackling the stages, as the Focus is a better, stronger car than anything we have competed here in the past in," noted Warmbold.

Rather than offering any great advantage, Warmbold believes that their previous experience will put them on a more even playing field with their competitors: "Vovos will go very quick, Kuchar too as he has lots of experience in Greece. The younger drivers I'm not sure, they can go fast but it depends for how long. It's easy to go quick over the rough stuff but you won't finish this event like that."

Warmbold is relaxed about the challenges coping with the heat, as is co-driver Gemma Price who has been training hard for this event. "I almost passed out here two years ago so I know how important it is, not only to be physically and mentally fit but to ensure that our fluid intake is kept up during the rally," said Price, "Fortunately Acropolis isn't too slow, with average speeds around 80-90, so at least we will be able to get air into the car."

Alistair Ginley will also be in action in a M-Sport prepared Ford. It's been three months since his last outing at the Turkish Rally and Ginley is keen to get back behind the wheel. "We've unfortunately not had the opportunity to do any rallies since, nor the chance to test, so we will spend our shakedown reacquainting ourselves with the car," noted Ginley.

Ginley admits having such a break between events is not ideal, but is looking forward to both the Acropolis and Cyprus Rallies: "We have done both events previously in a Mitsubishi Group N car. While previous pace notes will be no good to us in the Focus, the previous experience of the road conditions and the heat will be of some help. We will also draw on our experiences at the Turkish Rally as it helped us realise how much harder we can push the car on the rough - the strength of the car is amazing."

Neither Ginley nor co-driver Rory Kennedy is keen to make any predictions on the outcome. "Of course our aim is to beat as many of our fellow Priority 2 drivers as possible, but it's been a while since we've been in the car and we have to be realistic. We were the first privateer home on the last two rallies and we would like to be next in line from the manufacturers entries again. Regardless of the outcome, we are optimistic about competing in Greece, as every time I get in the car I learn something new about the Focus."

With the prospect of a two-month gap between rallies on his 2003 WRC programme, Tomasz Kuchar entered the South Swedish Rally at the end of last month, using the event as an extended test for the Acropolis Rally.

"As well as an opportunity to refamiliarise myself with the car, it was also a good confidence boost for both Maciej [Szczepaniak - my co-driver] and I after our crash in New Zealand," said Kuchar, "The team have done a great job and the car looks and feels like new now."

Kuchar has been working hard to prepare for the Acropolis with his trainer, six-times World Champion Light Weigh Kick Boxer Mariusz Cieslinski. "I know the Focus is an extremely strong car, but I learnt in Greece last year that you also need to be as strong as possible mentally and physically to stay in the rally," added Kuchar, "We have been doing a lot of endurance training and I am feeling fit and up for the challenges ahead."

Kuchar describes the Acropolis Rally as the 'Thinking Man's Rally' - it's not just about speed but rhythm: "Some stages are slow, some fast, but it's getting through them that counts and that's where concentration is all-important," he said.

The 2002 Acropolis Rally was the last time Armodious Vovos was behind the wheel of a Ford Focus so when the five-times Greek Rally Champion was offered the opportunity to briefly test a Ford Focus RS WRC02 in the United Kingdom two weeks ago he jumped at the chance.

"The car feels great, and while we didn't get much time behind the wheel I know it is the perfect choice for the Acropolis," said Vovos, "The 2002 car is amazing, the new paddle shift is great as it allows me to keep both hands on the wheel and this is very important in Greece as for the stages with short touring distances between it means my arm won't get tired from changing gear."

The 2003 Acropolis Rally will be the eleventh time Vovos has competed in the event and even he is expecting some surprises this year: "The new stages that have been introduced for Leg Three will really be the make or break time for those still running - they are unbelievably rough and will be tough - not only on the cars but the drivers."

Vovos, a strong advocate of safety regulations, is somewhat puzzled by the introduction of regulations which see three-layer flameproof overalls mandatory for this event: "It will be very very hot and the thicker suits will make it a much more difficult rally. For sure safety is our number one priority, but safety is not only about the right equipment - it's about ensuring you're in good mind and body control and with the extra layers in the searing heat it's sure to affect concentration."

For Greek businessman Ioannis Papadimitriou the Acropolis Rally will be just his second WRC outing this year. "We have been concentrating on the Italian Championship this season, along with a small number of world rally championship events," commented Papadimitriou, "It has personally been very disappointing to restrict our involvement this year, however we are preparing for the Olympic Games in Athens which involves a lot of commitment both time wise and financially."

Papadimitriou, an hotelier, has also withdrawn from the Cyprus Rally next month. "I feel terrible about it but it was the right decision so as to move forward," he said.

Having just completed a short test prior to the reconnaissance, Papadimitriou is upbeat about his chances in his home country: "The Focus is a very good car for the Acropolis and if driven correctly - completely flat out but at the same time cleverly - I know it can finish in a respectful position. The Acropolis nowadays is a tricky event. It combines smooth and fast sections together with rougher bits and the variety makes it very interesting."

The Acropolis Rally begins this Thursday with a ceremonial start, before the real action commences on Friday.